24z THE GAY GENIUS garden home of Prince Wang Shien. This is the great "Gathering of Scholars at the Western Garden",* celebrated in painting by Li and fully described by Mi Fei. Present were the three great painters ot" Sung dynasty, Su Tungpo, Mi Fei and Li Lungmien, arid Su's brother and his four disciples. Stone tablets are spread beneath the tall cypresses' and bamboos in the garden. At the top, a cascade flows into a great river, covered on both banks with flowers and bamboos. Two conou^ bines of the host, wearing high coiffures with many hair ornaments, are standing behind the table. Su Tungpo, in his black cap and yellow gown, is leaning over the table writing, while Prince Wang Shien sits near-by looking on. At another table, Li Lungmien is writing a poem by Tao Chien, while Tseyu, Huang Tingchien, Chang Lei, Chao Puchih are all grouped around the table. Mi Lei, standing, head up- turned, is inscribing something on a rock near-by. Chin Kuan seats himself among the gnarled roots of a tree listening to someone playing on a stringed instrument, while others are scattered about, kneeling -ug standing in different postures. Monks and other scholars make up the rest of the crowd. It is generally recognised that Su's writing was at its best when he was intoxicated or inspired, and considering the rapid rhythm required in the execution of Chinese calligraphy or paintings, one can well believe it. When he was chief examiner of the imperial examinations in 1088, he and his artist friends Li Kunglin, Huang Tingchien, and Chang Lei were locked up for a period of at least seven or eight weeks as fellow judges of the examinations, forbidden to communicate with the outside world until the final grading of the papers had been comj pleted. In their spare time, Li Kunglin painted horses to amuse him- self, Huang wrote lugubrious or macabre verse on ghosts, and they told one another tall tales of Taoists and fairies. As for Su Tungpo, Huang wrote: "Tungpo loved to write, but one must not beg for his autographs. Those who do so are sometimes bluntly refused. When we were locked up in the ministry of education during the examina- tions, every time he saw paper lying on the desk, he would start to cover it up with his writing, regardless of the quality of the paper. He loved to drink, but after four or five cups was already dead drunk. Without ceremony he went and stretched himself out and began to snore like thunder. After a while he woke up, approached the tal^k. and began to write or paint as fast as the wind. Even his jocular versei had a great charm. Indeed, he was one of the fairies." Su Tungpo says of his own practice of the art: "I realise that full mastery is not just license, but arises from perfection of details. But * The painting reproduced in the book is a late copy, probably Ming, and some of the details have been changed. Three of the original figures are missing. In the copy at the Peking Palace Museum, of which I have seen only a reproduction, all sixteen figures are preserved.